Save Twickenham Film Studios

Labour Party

Twickenham Film Studios where recent productions include Stephen Spielberg’s latest film, War Horse along with The Iron Lady and Calendar Girls (to name just a few) were produced, is under the threat of closure.

At a time when the British film industry is already suffering (following the closure of the UK Film Council last year) and needs as much support as it can get, this is not a good move. It is trying to compete against multi-million dollar imports from the United States, and the closure presents a further difficult situation for the British film industry.

Work at the Studios started to wind down last month when its administrators claimed it had not made any money for three years.

But film director Steven Spielberg has lent heavy weight support. And local supporters are hoping for a last minute reprieve.

Last Friday I visited the site to show my support with a group of hardy campaigners who are fighting to save the Studios.

One film editor there reminded me that there was a planned closure in 1963 but that the Beetles saved it after they filmed their hit Help!

I have taken the issue to the European Parliament and asked the Commission what it is prepared to do to support important studios like Twickenham, the bed rock of our film industry.

Here is my question to the Commission in full: “This studio has a long and illustrious history; it was used by the Beatles to film ‘A Hard Days Night’ and ‘Help’, as well as by Ridley Scott in the making of Blade Runner.

At a time when the film industry across Europe is struggling to compete with imports from the United States, it seems that we should be doing all we can to protect institutions such as Twickenham Studios.

What can the Commission do to help studios like Twickenham so that we can continue to make great films in Europe?”

You can see a BBC London news story is here.

Is Cameron Now Trying to Bring the UK Film Council Back from the Ashes?

Labour Party

Earlier this week I found myself more than a little surprised to hear that David Cameron had said that the UK must help “producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions”.

Over a year and a half ago I blogged about my shock that the UK Film Council was one of the many victims of the claimed bonfire of the Quangos the Tories lit in 2010. You can read what I said here.

The UK Film Council was an excellent mechanism in helping to develop the UK film industry. From its launch in 2000, the Film Council helped to fund a long list of fantastic films. This year The King’s Speech, one of the final UKFC funded films, won 4 Oscars and much international critical acclaim.

The Iron Lady film currently garnering much comment is another UK Film Council assisted production.

I am slightly confused then why, if Cameron wants a commercially viable British film industry, he got rid of the Film Council in the first place. With its list of hits including The Last King of Scotland and Bend It Like Beckham the UKFC seemed to be doing the trick.

To me his actions just reconfirm yet again what I said back in 2010 the “Cuts are made rapidly for ideological reasons not with consideration for what is best for the British economy and best for British society”.

The Coalition has been very quiet about the bonfire of the Quangos. In the case of the film industry at least it seems that Mr Cameron didn’t really have a problem with the Quango itself, he just wanted one with his own name on it.

The real cost of Osborne’s Budget

Labour Party

David Cameron is today spending huge amounts of taxpayers’ money holding a Cabinet meeting in Yorkshire.  When Gordon Brown took his Cabinet to Leeds at the end of 2008, West Yorkshire Police spent £138,000 on extra security.  Add travel, hotels, and the other necessary costs and we have a very substantial sum.

This may be just acceptable if the Osborne budget had not happened.  But it did and we will soon be feeling the consequences.

Last week the Chancellor announced £30 billion pounds of welfare spending cuts.  Households with a joint income of £30,000 will lose tax credits. Disability and housing allowances will face swingeing cuts.  Meanwhile the ring-fencing of health and international aid and the Chancellor’s promise to protect education and defence spending will mean a cut of around £43 million from the remaining £125 billion of departmental spending – a 34 per cent cut in real terms.

The real effect of these overwhelming numbers was brought home to me yesterday listening to a representative from the UK Film Council talk about what they are expected to do.  The UK Film Council, which receives £30 million a year from the Treasury as well as other funding and employs about 100 staff, does a huge amount of work stimulating the film industry in this country thereby not only improving our quality of life but creating jobs.

The UK Film Council along with the rest of government has been asked to produce spending plans showing cuts of up to 30 per cent for the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.  A cut of 30 per cent in an organisation employing 100 people is obviously devastating.  I would go so far as to say it would completely undermine its viability.

This takes me back to the very bad old days, the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher.  My first general election in London was in 1979, the year Thatcher won.  I have never doubted that the Iron Lady had a very clear agenda which fell into two parts.  One was to break the power of organised labour by increasing unemployment.  The other was more subtle in its incarnation if not its philosophy: to maintain, and even increase, the power of a ruling, right-wing elite.

Thatcher was remarkably successful in achieving her ends.  The trade unions have never been the same again.  What is more, Britain’s governing class have now reverted to type – over half of the current Con/Lib-Dem Cabinet are public school educated.

Thatcher managed her revolution on the back of the money from North Sea oil which provided just about enough revenue to fund the enormous cost of unemployment benefit caused by her policies.  Much of the real damage to government was therefore hidden by this criminal waste of money, money which could have been used for the things Osborne claims he wants to maintain – health, international aid and education.

The essential point is, however, that Thatcher could afford the cost of her vicious right-wing policies because she had the means to do so.  Cameron does not.

Make no mistake, the Cameron/Osborne cuts are as ideological as any made by Margaret Thatcher.  While there is a need, endorsed by the G20, to get public expenditure under control, Osborne’s enthusiastic embracing of public sector cuts was not necessary.  The Government could, and should, have waited.  It did not all have to be done at once, and the immediate cuts could have been made in areas such as big government IT projects unlikely to hit either welfare benefits or middle income families.

It is, of course, the scale of the cuts and where they fall that demonstrates their ideological nature.    

There is no doubt unemployment will go up, a human tragedy in itself.

What is more, the cuts will put an end to policies which may have helped.  On the Today programme this morning two economics professors, Dr Mariana Mazzuccto and Dr Linda Yeuh of the Open University and Oxford University respectively, discussed the need for the UK to improve its export performance.  There both agreed this meant more academic research and innovation – an distant prospect indeed since it’s extremely unlikely that even the protected education budget will be increased to make this happen.

The work of the Culture and Education Committee since the Election

Labour Party

Last  Friday I had one of my regular meetings with the British Culture Trade Unions to discuss developments in Europe. The picture shows me with from left to right Louise McMullen from Equity (thanks to Equity for hosting the meeting), Tony Lennon and Andy Egan from BECTU, Hatice Ozdemirciler of the UK Film Council and Peter Thoms from the Musicians Union. Here is the written report I provided them,  I think it is a useful summary for anybody interested in the work of the Culture and Education Committee in the European Parliament. Regular readers may be familiar with some of these subjects already!

The Culture and Education Committee in 2009

Last September, I became the Coordinator of the Socialists and Democrats on the Culture and Education Committee.  Carrying on the work from the previous Parliament, the Culture and Education Committee helped establish the European Year of Volunteering for 2011, which will help promote volunteering as an important part of our civic society.  The Culture and Education Committee was also busy with the hearings for the new European Commission.  Androulla Vassiliou, the new Culture and Education Commissioner, gave a convincing performance in her hearing and responded well to my question on how we might use culture and education to fight social inequality.  If you would like to know more then please read my blog on the subject here.

Online Content and Creative Rights

In the last few months I have had the pleasure of taking part in numerous events and panel discussions focusing on the somewhat fraught issue of online content and creative rights.  These debates have shown what a complex and emotive subject copyright can be.  I have met with people from the Creative Industries at every level from across Europe, they have been very helpful and informative about this issue and their contributions will be most useful when we eventually draft legislation.  The Commission’s recent reflections paper on the subject failed to give any concrete answers to this difficult problem and neither the Liberals nor the European Peoples’ Party seem close to developing an opinion on this important issue.  Nevertheless, we will hopefully be seeing developments in the next few months, with a new report coming from the Commission, and a public hearing being held in March in the European Parliament.  This is one of the big issues in the Culture and Education Committee, and as the Coordinator for the S&D group, I will be working with my colleagues to make sure we find the right solution.

Vocational Qualifications

One of the main things I hope to focus on in the next year is Vocational Qualifications.  There is a push now to get Vocational Qualifications mutually recognised across the member states.  Vocational Qualifications provide training and skills directly relevant to jobs, yet they are wrongly viewed by many as the “soft option”.  It is time that we in the Parliament worked to change this perception.  In this economic downturn, in a world of intensified global competition, with a high number of low skilled workers, and an aging population, Vocational Education and Training can play a key role in ensuring Europe’s future competitiveness and innovation. 

The LUX Prize

As well as the important work of the Culture and Education Committee, I also have the privilege of participating in projects such as the LUX prize.  The European Parliament awards a prize every year to a film that has relevance to issues surrounding Europe and the EU.  This year’s nominees were all excellent; with Eastern Plays and Sturm coming a close second and third to the very moving French film, Welcome. I blogged on the issue so if you would like to know more then you can read about it here.

Future Work of the Committee

Regarding the next six months in the Culture Committee, there have been some encouraging signs from the Spanish, who hold the presidency for the next six months.  Their culture minister, Angeles Gonzales-Sinde, gave an impressive presentation to the Culture and Education Committee where she stated that one of her top priorities was to consolidate culture as a significant factor in economic growth and social cohesion.  I find this particularly encouraging as an MEP for London, where the Cultural industries are second only to finance in terms of economic importance.  I am therefore looking forward to working with Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde to achieve this very important goal.